A small theatre in Kingston may not be somewhere you’d expect to see one of the UK’s most recognisable TV personalities.
But starring in a new production of Much Ado About Nothing is just one of the many strings Mel Giedroyc is adding to her rather large bow.
As someone who is best known as one half of a well-loved TV double act (currently an endangered species), the 49-year-old is perhaps not someone you’d associate with stage acting.
However, she points out, it’s not her first foray into theatre, nor even her first time doing Shakespeare.
“I played Titania [in A Midsummer Night’s Dream] at Oran Mor in Glasgow,” she tells BBC News. “Play, pie and a pint.”
“It’s lunchtime theatre, where you pay a tenner, and you get a play, and a pie and a drink, and the show lasts for an hour, and it is a riot, an absolute riot.”
Getting her head around the complex dialogue of Shakespeare may not be a new experience for Giedroyc, but it’s clearly one she still finds challenging.
“It’s unbearable. I just had to drill it, drill it, drill it,” she says, putting her finger to her temple.
“I talked to friends who are actors and who do Shakespeare loads, and they all said ‘learn it so that your family wants to clobber you, they’re so bored’.
“You can never relax, that’s the problem, because when you do, a bit of Shakespeare comes up to bite your cheeky behind. It just does, if you’re not really focused on it.”
Of course, at the press night, Giedroyc makes her role look easy, gliding through the fast-paced dialogue without missing a beat.
And, mostly through physical comedy and facial expressions, she certainly brings Mel to the role of Beatrice.
“I’m not a trained actor, so there was always going to be a certain amount of bringing my own… I was going to say skills but they’re not really skills, it’s just stuff that I know how to do I suppose,” she says.
“I’m really lucky to be surrounded by an incredible cast. This is a classy bunch of actors. These are all National [Theatre], RSC [Royal Shakespeare Company], and I just thought ‘oh my god, I’m a TV presenter’ on the first day.
“But I’ve always done stuff on stage so it feels very natural to be on stage – Sue and I did seven years of going round the country doing our live stuff.”
Viewers will of course be used to seeing Mel and Sue hosting shows like The Great British Bake Off (1.0), Light Lunch and Let’s Sing and Dance for Comic Relief.
But both also make plenty of radio and TV appearances on their own.
In recent years, Giedroyc has been seen without her usual partner-in-crime, fronting talent shows such as Let It Shine as well as the BBC’s Eurovision coverage – co-hosting the semi-finals with Radio 1’s Scott Mills.
This year, she presented Eurovision: You Decide, which saw SuRie chosen as the UK’s 2018 entrant. But Giedroyc isn’t going to Lisbon this year. Instead, Mills will be co-hosting with Rylan Clark-Neal.
“I love Rylan,” she says. “The guy is like the stick of Eurovision rock. Cut him in half and inside is Lulu, Sandie Shaw, Bucks Fizz and Brotherhood of Man.
“He was on the panel for Eurovision: You Decide, and he was just absolutely brilliant. I once beat Ken Bruce in a quiz on Eurovision knowledge and I just came away thinking ‘yes, I am king of Eurovision’, but Rylan knows so much more than me.
“I love him, I love the idea of him and Scott out there in Lisbon, it’s going to be absolutely brilliant.
“I can’t go to Lisbon sadly, but I will be involved.” (The BBC has confirmed she’ll be revealing the UK’s votes on the night.)
Giedroyc’s most recent TV gig was co-hosting the reboot of The Generation Game with Sue.
Two of the four episodes which had been commissioned weren’t broadcast, and it’s fair to say critics weren’t too keen on the ones that were.
The Telegraph described it as a “shameless carbon copy” of the original, while The Times said “you could almost smell the desperation to make it work”.
But the BBC One show was a ratings hit, attracting an average of 5.1 million viewers on Easter Sunday.
“It was always going to be tricky to step into those very large Bruce Forsyth and Larry Grayson-shaped shoes,” Giedroyc says.
“And we knew that it might come with a certain amount of ‘Oh, what the hell are they doing, doing that?'”
But, she adds: “Our thought is, if we’re asked to do more, we’ll be absolutely delighted to. And we just want to make it as good as we possibly can.
“If we get to do more we just have to try and make it our own, give it our own voice. It was absolutely brilliant fun, and it’s about the contestants. If you can make the contestants feel great about being there, and if they’re having a good time, then you’ve got a good show on your hands, that’s always our priority. We’ll see. We don’t know yet.”
With her appearance in Much Ado, plus a West End role in Stephen Sondheim’s Company this autumn, Giedroyc now actively seems to be pursuing more stage work.
“I love acting, I really do, I’ve always loved doing it, and it’s a joy to be asked to do this,” she says.
“I mean, to do Beatrice, for God’s sake, it is the best comedy Shakespeare role for a woman, and to be asked to do it… the run is too short though, it’s going to go like that,” she adds, clicking her fingers. (The play runs until early May).
“I’m so lucky, the last couple of years I’ve been offered a few bits and bobs [in acting] but I’ve never been able to do them for one reason or another, and now my kids are getting slightly older, I kind of thought, okay, I think I can do a bit of this now. It just felt that the time was right.
“It’s a blessing to be able to do different things really, I feel so lucky. And I just think, while [the offers] are there, and while I’ve got my marbles, and while I’m still young-ish… before June the 5th!” she laughs, referring to her forthcoming 50th birthday.
“But then you look at someone like Mary Berry and that woman is just such an inspiration – what’s to say you can’t do stuff for years and years, you know?”
Speaking of whom, does Giedroyc still watch The Great British Bake Off now it’s moved to Channel 4?
“I didn’t at the beginning – but I never watched ours either. So I’ve got myself into the brain space now, and I’m watching and enjoying, it’s fab,” she says.
Much Ado About Nothing is booking at the Rose Theatre Kingston until Sunday 6 May.
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